Blog Post - Atul Jain , Oct 15 2020

The do's and don'ts for a streamlined digital transformation in B2B

The do's and don'ts for a streamlined digital transformation in B2B

For the past few years, many B2B companies, brands and retailers have been undergoing a digital transformation. An important part of this transformation is modernizing their B2B commerce platform. The fact is that most of these companies have complex IT landscapes combined with some old legacy B2B ordering platforms which are far from today’s modern commerce platforms. Although, few of these legacy ordering platforms are functionally rich after decades of investment in development of unique features, there are still enough reasons to migrate to a more modern version:

  • Slow Go-to-Market of New Features
    Because several well-known eCommerce brands and retailers are increasingly raising the standards for customer expectations, today’s end users of eCommerce platforms are much more demanding. In order not to be left behind, brands and retailers have to innovate and come up with new features and changes almost every week. These business ambitions cannot always be fulfilled anymore by their current complex legacy commerce platforms. Brands and retailers will eventually be left behind because their platforms are difficult to develop, deploy & maintain.
  • Poor Customer Experience
    Today, B2B users expect to have a similar customer experience as they have on B2C websites. This phenomenon is called “the consumerization of B2B buyers”. Even armed with the ambition to invest in UX and front-end technologies, it may not be possible to achieve a modern customer experience in most of the legacy platforms due to architectural constraints.
  • High total cost of ownership
    The majority of the legacy ordering platforms is deployed on on-premise infrastructures with traditional licensing models. Maintaining old technologies is also very expensive because of the scarcity of resources. Today’s commerce suit platforms are available as software as a service (SaaS) and sometimes even in a ‘pay per use’ price model.

Most brands and retailers are aware of the challenges mentioned above. On one hand, they want to overcome them quickly but, on the other hand, they do not have the in-house technical knowledge & expertise to build a platform which fits their purpose. This may force them to select one of the enterprise commerce suites, such as HCL WCS (previously known as IBM WCS), SAP CX Suite (previously known as Hybris), Intershop, or Oracle CX Commerce etc. At a high level, all these enterprise commerce suites deliver most of the following features which are very much needed in B2B commerce:

  • Customer Organization Hierarchy
  • Customer Specific Pricing
  • Customer Specific Assortment
  • Approval Workflow based on budget, cost centers & departments
  • Punch Out of multiple versions of cXML and OCI

In my opinion, both B2B companies and software vendors underestimate the complexity of actual use cases or unique business needs. Some of the enterprise software is great and has come a long way, but it still cannot solve everything. For example, customer specific pricing can be very complex and business-specific, and therefore requires customization. Something similar may be the case for other features as well.

Platform migration is a process, not a project
The transformation of a B2B commerce platform takes months because it is a complex process. Failure to do it correctly since the beginning may lead to dissatisfaction with software vendors, budget deviation, delays in planning, and sub-optimal quality. Pressure of timelines in a transformation process can force architects and IT leaders to port several new features to service layers outside the new commerce platform. There is nothing wrong in making such decisions if IT leaders and architects are sure it is the best solution for the long term. However, IT leaders and architects must consider how to avoid a rough transformation journey without encountering any nasty surprises.

So, before migrating your old legacy B2B Commerce platform to any of today’s Enterprise Commerce Suites, the following measures should be taken into account:

  • Enterprise commerce platforms provide robust, scalable transaction engines and many other simple essential features. In-house development of the commerce platform is not recommended because the requisite technical knowledge and expertise is often lacking.
  • The process for platform selection goes further than just a feature checklist. A discovery phase to get a clear outlook of the business needs, supplemented with some proof-of-concept exercises of complex use cases with real data, is what we recommend.
  • Platform migration is an opportunity to rethink and reset many of the existing processes for B2B companies. Just migrating the “as-it-is features” to a new commerce platform will often lead to unnecessary development efforts. The right approach should be adjusting the process based on functional flow in new platforms wherever possible. This requires an open mindset from the people and the organization.
  • Most legacy commerce platforms focus on generic industry-wide use cases, which means that they are able to solve common requirements of B2B companies. This should not be considered as weakness of any platform. Instead, IT leaders or architects should focus on solving complex requirements the right way, either with minor customization or developing outside in a service layer.
  • When it comes to the long term, building and deploying complex and unique features in service layers may be cheaper. This is because components do not need to be re-implemented when migrating the platform to a newer version.
  • Choose a best-of-breed strategy for implementing each major process or use case. The approval workflow, for example, can be implemented in many lightweight business process management tools.
  • Develop your data interfaces in a way that the onboarding of customers on new platforms should be possible in multiple phases. This will give you more time to stabilize the platform, with less risk for high valued customers. It also offers the opportunity to implement only the necessary improvements based on the feedback coming from real customers before a fully fledged go-live.
  • Prepare proper training material of the new platform for end users and business users because it takes away many of the initial hassles of new platform know-hows.
  • Finally, in case companies lack the in-house knowledge, experience or capacity, then choose a good partner who can guide you through this complex journey. Our independent surveys consistently reflect the preference of both IT and Digital leaders in working with experienced partners when working with enterprise platforms.

The complexity of B2B Commerce can be managed and delivered within budget, planning and quality by implementing one of the enterprise commerce suites available on the market. However, it requires well-thought planning and execution by IT leaders and architects.